Ruby Dome • Highpoint: Elko County
• Range Highpoint: Ruby Mountains

Date Climbed
August 13, 2006

Elevation
11,387 feet

Distance
14 miles

Time
13 hours

Gain
5,400 feet

Conditions
Magnificent

Prominence
4,793 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


The Ruby Mountains as seen
from south of the city of Elko


Reflections in Griswold Lake


Griswold Lake from higher up


The gang at the 10,140-foot saddle:
Kevin, Sunshine and Ben


Our first full view of Ruby Dome


The final few (narrow, exposed) feet!


My 17th Nevada County Highpoint.
Notice the green shirt?


Ben and I at the cairn!


Looking east at Mt. Silliman


Looking north. Hennen Canyon
is to the left, Seitz Canyon to
the right, Elko on the horizon


On the descent.
Goodbye, Ruby!

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Summitpost


Ruby Dome is a gorgeous summit, topping the Ruby Mountains of northeast Nevada, overlooking the city of Elko. The summit is a pyramid of rock, with a noticeable point to the top, even visible from down below. The Rubys are one of the more well-known mountain ranges in Nevada, with its multitude of grand summits and its many beautiful canyons. Unlike many of the Great Basin ranges, the Rubys are rockier and wetter, giving it a more Colorado-like feel. Many people come to the Rubys to hike, camp and hunt, with Lamoille Canyon as its most fanous draw. Ruby Dome sees its share of hikers, but only the super-serious. There is no trail to the top, and the climb requires a full day, about a vertical mile of gain, and some skill at route-finding and rock-hopping on exposed talus. In other words, a lot of fun!

For me, a successful summit of Ruby Dome would be the culmination of my Nevada County Highpoints project. I climbed my first, the state highpoint at Boundary Peak, in 1995. In 1999, I climbed Charleston Peak in Clark County, then got hooked, visiting twelve more of the state's county highpoints by the end of 2002. This left me three to go, but then I went on a dry spell for three years. In 2005, I was successful on two of the remaining three, Grafton Peak in Lincoln County, and Middle Sister Peak in Lyon County. This left just one to go, Ruby Dome, which seemed like a good peak on which to finish my project. I was joined by Ben Knorr, a Salt Lake City-based climber who I knew through the County Highpointers club. We set Sunday, August 13th as our primary attempt date.

I began the journey with a flight into Salt Lake City, where I talked the car rental guy into an upgrade to a nice Jeep Equinox for about half its usual price (thus, I could sleep in it and save more money by avoiding hotels a couple of nights for the trip). I spent some time in the Salt Lake area getting supplies before setting out on the long journey on Interstate-80 across the Great Salt Lake Desert into Nevada and on into Elko. It was about 230 miles one way, and I killed some time in Elko at a neat little book store called the Blu Coyote talking to its owner about, of all things, hockey. In the late afternoon I drove out on highway NV-227 south of Elko through the sprawling "development" of Spring Valley. I followed Pleasant Valley Road to the gate and trailhead, but decided this wasn’t a good spot to camp, so I drove back to the highway and into Lamoille Canyon, where I found a nice (free) spot on some forest land near the Lamoille Camp. I just "camped" in the vehicle. In fact, I fell asleep around 6 p.m. I must have been really tired.

I was awake very early, by 3:30 a.m., fully rested and ready for the day's big adventure. I decided to drive back to the gate on Pleasant Valley Road and wait for Ben. People who live in Spring Valley have access to this gate as part of their homeowner’s association deal, while the rest of the world can rent a key for a deposit, as long as it’s during a weekday during normal business hours. No such luck for me: arriving Saturday for a Sunday climb, I had no key. All the key does is shave off an extra 1.2 miles of hiking each way, and about 500 feet of gain. As I waited for Ben a few cars came up and went in: a firing and archery range is located here, and a few were out on scouting trips for later hunts. Ben finally rolled up around 5 a.m. local time, just as the sun was barely rising in the east, and by 5:30 we were ready for our long hike. The gate sits at 6,040 feet elevation; we would literally be climbing this mountain from its base to the top, 5,400 feet of gain to the summit, over a vertical mile.

The walk from the gate to the upper parking area and usual trailhead took us about 20 minutes and went quickly. The trailhead is marked by a new sign mentioning "Griswold Lake 3 Miles, Ruby Dome 4 miles". This is way too generous: we think they just measured the horizontal distance on the map. We walked past the sign, across a new wooden bridge that spanned a flowing creek, and took a right at a T junction. For the next three miles or so (and 2,800 feet of gain), we would follow this good trail up Hennen Canyon, paralleling Butterfield Creek. The lower trail is amid open brush and sage, and gains steeply as it sidehills up a rounded ridge. We passed a gate (presumably the National Forest boundary) and continued up the moderately steep trail. It entered into some forest, mostly aspens, with lots of grasses and shrubs fed by the creek, then alternated through tree cover, open meadow, and occasional rocky sections. The trail itself was easy to follow and we made good time.

At just above 8,000 feet, we encountered the first significant rock band. The trail was cairned in places, but occasionally we had to use our best judgment to keep on route. By 8,800 feet we were essentially working entirely on rock, following cairns and common sense, working our way toward some trees and a noticeable shelf up on the headwall. In time we had come upon Griswold Lake, where we met up with a number of hikers breaking camp. They had hiked Ruby Dome the day before and gave us some suggestions. We had a nice chat, then hiked a few more feet to some rocky flat areas on the east side of Griswold Lake where we sat and had an extended breakfast break. It was just after 9 a.m. and we had been hiking for 3.5 hours, gaining 3,300 feet. Before I got too proud of this feat, I reminded myself there was still another 2,100 feet to go, and probably not over nice trail either. We spotted another couple come up to the lake and take refuge in a shaded area in the trees for a break.

After about 45 minutes Ben and I got moving again. We just started barreling up the steep talus shelves east of Griswold Lake, but this proved to be dicey as many of these large blocks weren’t set solidly and most gave an uncomfortable hollow sound when being stepped on. We did manage to get ourselves onto a wide flat area (good camp site, we noted), and that’s when we saw the other couple, now ahead of us, sort of. They had followed a different route and when they saw us we were about 200 feet apart, striking up a conversation. We discovered we all had the same goal in mind so we decided to team up into a group of four. Our new teammates were two Elko locals: Kevin and his sister-in-law, Sunshine. Neither had ever climbed their home mountain before and were eager for the summit. Together we followed a use path up a steep slope and surmounted a saddle at about 10,140 feet, just north of a notable landmark, a tooth-like 10,428-foot peak sitting above this saddle, directly south. At this saddle we had an unobstructed view of Ruby Dome, now much closer, much more grand and considerably more beautiful than from way down below. We still had our work cut out for us, though.

We hiked toward the base of the 10,428 peak, and walked up an easy cleft between it and a rock bald. Shortly the route began a gentle decline into the broad upper reaches of Seitz Canyon. Ruby Dome’s massive north face, nearly sheer vertical, gave way to huge fields of giant talus and lingering snowbanks. Below these gave way to gentler tongues of talus blocks and intervening patches of grassy ground, complete with wildflowers. A stream flowed from the rocks, heavy enough so that we could hear it from about 200 feet away. We walked to this stream and took a break, refilling water bottles while there. The reports we had suggested to find some ramps or chutes or something that would lead us up directly from this basin and up onto a series of ledges, eventually leading up to the prominent west ridge of Ruby Dome’s summit. However, we didn’t see anything obvious and it seemed to us that proceeding generally straight, cutting across the bottom of Ruby Dome, was our best bet. We walked past this flowing stream, up some more talus ramps, and soon came upon a large, level snowfield. We were essentially dead center below Ruby’s summit, lording above us by a good thousand vertical feet.

We had reached a decision to attempt Ruby’s summit from its steeper east ridge, so with that in mind we worked our way toward the east ridge and saddle. Coming off of Ruby Dome’s summit was an intervening rib of talus, set generally northeast of the summit, and leading all the way up to a prominent point on the east ridge, a point where the slope moderated from steep to easy, at least what our eyes could tell us. Here, we seemed to generally split into three groups: Ben bounded up and went high up this talus rib, while Kevin and Sunshine stayed lower and took a more moderated approach to the saddle. I figured both ways were good, so I cut the difference and followed a route between the two.

The talus on this ridge was steep and sometimes not set tightly. We had to take each step carefully and test each rock to be sure it wouldn’t tip or groan or slide under our weight. We convened again at a point about 200 feet below the ridge point, and about 100 feet above the saddle. Our elevation was about 11,100 feet. After another well-earned rest, we weren’t entirely sure what to do next other than to go up and hope for the best. We hiked a few more feet to attain the ridge itself, now able to look down the massive cliffs on its south side. Above us was the aforementioned ridge point, a narrow clump of randomly-placed talus, pointing into the sky like a finger. The summit was invisible from our vantage. I have to admit (and I think the others would agree) that even getting to this point looked pretty scary, and not a guarantee that there would be safe passage afterwards. So close to the summit, we were minorly concerned that we had run up a potential dead end. There was only one way to find out…

We strung out in our usual pattern: Ben first, me second and Kevin and Sunshine not far behind. The final 60 vertical feet to this point was manageable, but class-3 scrambling all the way up with some portions of exposure. But, fortunately, the rocks here were very solid and full of handholds, and the climbing went well, albeit slowly. Soon, Ben was very near the top of this point. The the rest of us stopped in our tracks for a report: our entire climb had come down to what Ben could see from this point to the top. Shortly he came back with good news: he could see the summit close by and that the ridge was narrow, but safe. I surmounted this ridge point a few moments later, followed by Kevin and Sunshine.

There was the top, tantalizingly close, maybe a hundred vertical feet higher across a narrow catwalk with thousand-foot-plus drops on both sides. We most certainly took each step with the greatest of care, believe you me. Only one obstacle remained: about halfway the ridge narrowed too narrowly (in our opinion) and we felt it wise to drop a bit onto a steep but safe rock slope below and traverse this section, maybe 30 horizontal feet where we dropped about 15 feet to get past this portion. At this point Kevin and Sunshine got into the lead and it was Sunshine who had the honor of being the first to tag the 4-foot tall cairn on the summit, letting out a celebratory yay. It seemed right to allow the local Elkoans be the first to the top.

Within moments, the four of us were at the top. For all of us, a wonderful end to a grueling climb and for me, a completion of all seventeen Nevada county highpoints. I was thrilled, sure, but also very tired and kind of itching to get right back onto the talus to get down onto safer ground. We spent about 20 minutes on top, signing in and taking photos, picking out nearby summits in the Ruby Mountains and far-away peaks way off to the north. Elko laid out on the tan-colored desert floor, a jumble of lines and patches of green, a vertical mile below us. We noted with much irony that despite our challenges getting to the top of Ruby Dome, many of the nearby peaks, some just feet lower than Ruby Dome, had only steeper, more exposed 4th-and-5th class routes to their summits. We knew that we were fortunate Ruby Dome’s summit was actually reachable by mortal humans. Now to get down.

We dickered for awhile on top whether to walk down the gentle west ridge and follow the ledges down, as described in our reports, or to go down the way we came up. Ultimately we chose the latter, figuring at least we knew what to expect. I took the lead and we strung out again, each managing the very steep downclimb with care, slowly working our way down onto the fields of talus, opting to go lower than before then cut across. This worked well, although we had to zig-zag around the snowbanks and avoid cliffs that were invisible until we actually were feet from their edges. In less than an hour we were back to the level snowfield below Ruby Dome, where we took an extended food and water break and where we could actually sit and relax, knowing that the really nasty stuff was now behind us. We spent maybe 40 minutes here, laying down and enjoying the mid-day sun and the gorgeous profile of Ruby Dome’s unique summit ridge.

The hike to the 10,140-foot saddle was easy, and the downclimb to Griswold Lake went well, although we had to scoot and slither down some rock faces and clefts, all the while following a scant trail beaten in by previous hikers. In another hour we were at Griswold Lake, taking another good break. I was getting dehydrated, and it seemed no matter how much I drank, I was thirsty again immediately. It was uncomfortable, but I still had 2 liters of water on me, and with a flowing creek paralleling our route all the way down, water would always be at hand, so I didn’t worry too much. The thought of a cold Gatorade and later on, a beer, kept me motivated. Even a can of Keystone sounded good at this point.

From Griswold Lake the hike back to the trailhead took about two hours, with Ben and I hiking as a group and Kevin and Sunshine about five minutes behind us. The sun was behind some of the ridges giving us much welcome shade. Ben and I finally staggered back to the trailhead, where we both sat on the new footbridge over the creek. I laid down and snoozed, but soon Kevin and Sunshine were out, and they most very kindly gave us a ride down to our cars (they had a key and had parked at the higher trailhead). Back at the gate and our cars we said our goodbyes to Kevin and Sunshine, then Ben and I parted ways, a good end to a very successful afternoon. For us, it had been a thirteen-hour summit day, including all of our many breaks. Roughly, it was about 7.5 hours to the top and 4.5 down. I don’t care if it took me twenty hours, I felt thrilled to have summitted the grand Ruby Dome, and to have been accompanied by three great teammates! Thanks to Ben, Kevin and Sunshine.

As for me, I drove into Elko, stopping at the first Stop-n-rob I could find, and sucked down a green Gatorade. Wow that was good. I took a hotel at the main casino in Elko and treated myself to a prime rib sandwich and 12 hours of sleep. A long, tiring and amazing day. The next day I drove back into Utah with plans for more peaks, but rain and some nasty roads shooed me off a couple peaks. I was able to visit the rocky highpoint of Wasatch County a couple days later as consolation before flying home to start another year of teaching.

(c) 2006 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.